Blackmon heart and soul of Rockies baseball

March 31st, 2021

concealed himself, his back to the field and the outfielder's bearded face toward the Rockies’ stadium-side office at Salt River Fields, while teammates trying to reach his level entertained a Spring Training audience.

This was merely to give an interview more than 20 minutes of his attention. Shunning fans or, as his answers revealed, the Rockies themselves has never been on his mind. Blackmon and Purple Pinstripes, and flowing streams and rugged mountain terrain, just seem to go together.

“First of all, it's one of the best places on the planet to be,” said Blackmon, 34, a four-time National League All-Star whose current contract ends this year but includes player options that can keep him with Colorado through 2023. “Denver's just an unbelievable place itself with a great fanbase, and the opportunity to play in maybe the best park in baseball.”

Now, we’ll stop here to ask you, the Rockies fan, to keep reading.

If you scroll your computer or smartphone long enough, you’ll know the words of Blackmon’s last sentence are viewed as a dagger, as far as unhappy fans and critics are concerned. Beautiful park, unmatched sunsets, mountain vistas that make you ignore man-made developments just in front of you -- all in the absence of winning baseball.

The Rockies have nary a division championship headed into their 29th season. After teasingly making history with their first consecutive postseason berths in 2017-18, Colorado dipped to fourth place in the National League West the previous two years. The club traded Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals this offseason.

Blackmon, never afraid to shun opinions he thinks are unknowledgeable, believes competitive baseball and natural beauty can go together during a 2021 season that opens on Thursday at home against the 2020 World Series champion Dodgers.

In his view:

The Rockies are worth your excitement

“We have one of the best young players in the game in [shortstop] Trevor Story and we have a really exciting young group of starting pitchers, who look really good right now,” Blackmon said. The exciting part is that it's really hard to see the future for us -- I think that's exciting. There’s a lot of upside.”

Wanting to win and wanting to play with Colorado isn’t mutually exclusive

“I would much rather be a big part of a team and really own that responsibility, and be a big part of the reason that team succeeds, rather than be a part of a team that’s going to be great with or without me, didn’t need me, didn’t care for me,” Blackmon said. “In my opinion, that’s not as fulfilling.”

Blackmon doesn’t care about your projection or your tweet

“I have a pretty good feel for what's important, and what's not important is negativity on Twitter,” he said. “I'm not gonna let negative social media steal any power from me.”

No one takes power from Blackmon. From his 2011 arrival, Blackmon has owned his approach, preparation and execution by considering coaching or information as research, then ultimately coming to his own conclusions rather than merely following instruction.

Now, with prompting from manager Bud Black, Blackmon is using that power for others.

“As his career continues the next few years, he’s going to enjoy who he is but also expanding his personality, his wisdom, his experience,” Black said.

Before now, even teammates may have had a mistaken impression. Blackmon's mining advanced stats to incorporate into hitting and defensive positioning, and his spending postgame hours grunting through weight training or using tools for muscle maintenance set him apart. But that wasn’t the intended effect.

“He's so focused and routine oriented, as everybody knows, sometimes the younger guy coming up doesn't feel like they want to bug him,” infielder-outfielder Garrett Hampson said. “But Charlie’s an open book.”

This spring, the Rockies made Blackmon a human study guide.

In 2020, the club fell into a strange habit of missing fastballs that should have been crushed.

According to Statcast, Colorado had the eighth-highest MLB whiff (swing and miss) rate on “middle-middle” fastballs, and the rate in such pitches at Coors was 14 percent -- the Rockies’ highest since figures on the stat became available in 2008. This is a problem since opposing pitchers, to avoid the lack of action on breaking pitches, throw fastballs 54.2 percent of the time on visits to Coors, a greater rate than any home team saw in its park).

But Blackmon swung at 17 middle-middle fastballs, missing just one -- (the little lavender sliver tucked under two green balls and above an orange). So hitting coach Dave Magadan asked him to speak to the team’s hitters, and walked away educated.

“Ninety-five percent of it had to do with effort level that we think is a culprit in us not doing the damage we feel we should on fastballs in the middle of the plate,” Magadan said. “It was pure gold. I wish we would have recorded it.”

Beneath the hitting philosophy, Blackmon’s goal is to help his team join him in providing heart and soul, no matter what anyone says.

"There are a lot of good reasons to like the Rockies, and there's going to be a lot of good baseball played this year," Blackmon said. "“And if you are in that [negative] mode, there's lots of time for us to change your mind.”